ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — The Siena Saints lived up to their part as the No. 1 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament and the favorite to win the tournament that would put them in the NCAA tournament next week.
They dominated the No. 9 Manhattan Jaspers (13-18, in a 69-43 victory on Wednesday night at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall to advance to the MAAC semifinals on Friday night. They will face the winner of No. 4 Monmouth and No. 5 Quinnipiac (they play each other Thursday night), which will be on ESPNEWS at 6 p.m..
Of course, the Saints and the rest of the MAAC teams participating in the tournament will be playing in front of no fans as a result of coronavirus precaution. Only student-athletes, event staff, media, family members of the MAAC teams and TV network partners can attend.
Siena’s big men duo of Manny Camper (game-high 15 points) and Sammy Friday (12 points) combined to score 27 of Siena’s 63 points. They also wore down Manhattan’s Tyler Reynolds and Pauly Paulicap (Manhattan’s leading scorer with 12 points).
“Proud of our guys,” first-year Siena coach Carmen Maciariello said of his team winning 10 in a row and earning the 20th win of the season. “We executed the game plan perfectly. We matched Manhttan punch by punch. Manhattan beat us earlier this year (81-69 victory at Riverdale on Jan. 12), so we knew Manhattan can compete.”
The Jaspers started off well by getting the Saints out of sorts offensively by trapping Jalen Pickett (nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists) and forcing them to make a couple of turnovers. It was good enough for the Jaspers to have their only lead of the game at 5-4.
Then, Maciariello inserted Friday in the game and things changed from there. Siena tied the game at 10, and Friday spearheaded a 17-7 run along with Camper through their offense and defense to break the tie.
“They have great pieces around Jalen Pickett,” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said of Friday and Camper. “Jalen Pickett poses problems defensively. When they trap him, he can pass to the open guy and keep them honest. They (Friday and Camper) are dangerous, and they did their thing with their length that kept us from scoring layups. They got on a run that separate us and them.”
Camper and Friday played a role in Siena outscoring Manhattan 34-28 in the paint. They also created second-chance points through their rebounding, which Siena outscored its counterpart 18-13. They helped Siena create 11 fast-break points.
The Saints took a 34-25 lead at halftime, and never looked back. Their largest lead came with an 18-point lead couple of times at 54-36 and 63-45.
Camper’s emergence as Siena’s go-to-guy played a role during Siena’s 10-game winning streak, but the junior forward shrugged it off.
“It was a collective effort,” he said in creding Pickett’s ability to set him up. “The guys find me open, and I am able to hit my sweet spot.”
Maciariello gushed about Friday’s performance.
“When Sammy Friday plays well, we can win a championship,” he said of his senior forward reserve grabbing six rebounds to add to his night.. “He is our X-factor. I said it all summer.”
With Siena’s big men dominating and clicking, Maciariello was quizzed about his team being the favorite..
“There’s no favorites,” he retorted. “We don’t let the noise creep in our circle. We want to learn and get better. It’s an exciting time for the year.”
Masiello begged to differ.
“Siena’s the best team in the MAAC,’’ he said.